Volunteer hands will build a playground in Montevideo to match the imaginations of the community's children

MONTEVIDEO -- It's been a long time since they held an old-fashioned barn raising on the prairie of Chippewa County. Montevideo is about to give it a try in the middle of town. It's not exactly a barn that will be going up, but a playground as ex...

MONTEVIDEO -- It's been a long time since they held an old-fashioned barn raising on the prairie of Chippewa County.

Montevideo is about to give it a try in the middle of town.

It's not exactly a barn that will be going up, but a playground as expansive as the imaginations of 650 children.

To turn the childrens' dreams into reality will take the helping hands of 400 to 500 people at a "minimum,'' according to Jerry Tilden, park board chairman, who is helping lead the community-wide project. The volunteers will go to work on June 7 and work three shifts a day for four consecutive days to have the project finished in Smith Park in time for the 2006 Fiesta Days celebration.

Building the playground will be very much like a pioneer-era barn raising in terms of the community spirit and volunteerism it will take.


"This is a real barn raising here. This is the real stuff,'' said John Dean, who outlined the plans to its enthusiasts in Montevideo on Thursday evening.

Dean is a playground designer with Leathers and Associates of Ithaca, N.Y. The company has been helping communities design and build unique playgrounds from scratch since 1971.

Dean devoted the day Thursday to garnering ideas for Montevideo's playground from 650 elementary and middle school students. They came up with enough ideas to build a playground covering 11,000 to 12,000 square feet, according to Dean. The company helps communities across the country with about 100 projects like this a year.

This is one of the more ambitious, according to Dean.

He ranked the Montevideo plans right up there with the playground the folks in Lubbock, Texas built a few years ago. Of course, the folks from the Lone Star state set out to build one of the biggest playgrounds ever.

Youngsters in Montevideo seemed more intent on building a playground that offered them all kinds of fun things to do. The plans for the Montevideo park feature everything from a giant canoe and Swiss cheese maze to a tree fort, dragon slide, bouncing trampoline bridge, giant spider web to climb, and haunted tower with mirrors.

In a way, the plans call for building three playgrounds in one. The first will be a fenced in area designed for pre-school age children. Its centerpiece will be a miniature version of the historic Chippewa Pioneer Village.

The larger, main playground area for school-age children will include everything from climbing walls to monkey bars and all of those unique ideas generated by the students.


The entire playground area will be encircled by a walking trail with fitness stations along the way for adults.

"A destination,'' is how Steve Jones, Montevideo city manager, describes the park.

Jones first proposed the idea for the community playground to park board members a few years ago. Jones had been the city manager in Mora when a similar project was undertaken there with Leatherman and Associates in 1991. He said the project remains a source of pride in Mora, not to mention a magnet for children.

Tilden said the idea quickly took hold in Montevideo, and planning got underway. The city began setting aside park monies and now has over $70,000 for the project. The community also has raised $20,000 in contributions and pledges from civic organizations, banks and other businesses.

Tilden said the community has a goal of raising $150,000 for the project. He's confident that it will be able to reach its goal by June.

The funds will be used to purchase all of the materials needed, as well as to pay Leatherman and Associates for the design and engineering work required for the project. All of the labor to build the playground and the tools will be provided by the volunteers.

Dean said most of the playground will be built of recycled plastic "wood.'' He estimates that the Smith Park playground will require 1,000 two-by-six boards and 1,200 two-by-four boards, and more 5,000 screws.

Jones said the playground project is first of all "for the kids.'' It's an opportunity to provide youngsters with a fun and safe place.


It isn't just a playground that will be built. "It's a community building project,'' said Jones. The opportunity for residents of all age to work together on a fun and exciting project should foster community pride and develop friendships, he added.

It will take lots of good friends to make it happen, and Dean was the first to emphasize the importance of getting people involved. The entire playground is built from scratch, and the level of detail and quality of the final product depends entirely on those who show up and do the work, he explained.

He's optimistic about what Montevideo can produce. Dean said his visit convinced him that the community has both the talent and ambition to match the imaginations of its children. "I think we're going to do good here,'' he said.

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